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Apr. 28, 2015 — Baltimore agonistes

The pictures from helicopters and on the ground were everything you needed to know about what was happening in Baltimore yesterday afternoon as protests turned violent, with smashing, looting, and burning completely obliterating the fact that a young man, Freddie Gray, died in police custody last week from alleged police mistreatment.

What gets me about this situation is that reinforcements should certainly have been called out after flare-ups last Saturday when protesters got involved in punchups in front of bars near Oriole Park at Camden Yards, and a chair was used to break a window at a store in the Inner Harbor.

As a result of the delayed call-up of the National Guard, there was needless destruction and conflict, much of it fomented by economic frustration as well as some untoward words on the part of the Baltimore police.

Yesterday afternoon, the police put out a press release which used some of the same language that has been used to justify the ramping up of law enforcement against terrorists. I was almost waiting for news media and public officials to use the word “terrorists” to describe the looters; thankfully they stopped at the word “thug.”

Baltimore is a wonderful, magical place full of quirky people, traditions, and architecture. It is also a place of woeful economic inequality, where two separate sides of the city could be so different. In one side of town, a restaurant could have bulletproof glass separating staff from customers, signs proclaiming a 20-minute occupancy policy, and bathrooms could be off-limits except for customers with special tokens to open them. On the other side, a restaurant in the same chain could provide its customers with unlimited condiments and people could refill their fountain drinks, no questions asked.

In the midst of the divided city, there has been a lot of nuanced conversation about what has been going on in the aftermath of Gray’s death. But perhaps the most interesting statement coming out of this episode has come from John Angelos, one of the co-owners of the Baltimore Orioles. I’ll reprint his statements here:

…[M]y greater source of personal concern, outrage and sympathy beyond this particular case is focused neither upon one night’s property damage nor upon the acts, but is focused rather upon the past four-decade period during which an American political elite have shipped middle class and working class jobs away from Baltimore and cities and towns around the U.S. to third-world dictatorships like China and others, plunged tens of millions of good, hard-working Americans into economic devastation, and then followed that action around the nation by diminishing every American’s civil rights protections in order to control an unfairly impoverished population living under an ever-declining standard of living and suffering at the butt end of an ever-more militarized and aggressive surveillance state.

The innocent working families of all backgrounds whose lives and dreams have been cut short by excessive violence, surveillance, and other abuses of the Bill of Rights by government pay the true price, and ultimate price, and one that far exceeds the importance of any kids’ game played tonight, or ever, at Camden Yards. We need to keep in mind people are suffering and dying around the U.S., and while we are thankful no one was injured at Camden Yards, there is a far bigger picture for poor Americans in Baltimore and everywhere who don’t have jobs and are losing economic civil and legal rights, and this makes inconvenience at a ballgame irrelevant in light of the needless suffering government is inflicting upon ordinary Americans.

It’s been rare when the owner of a sports franchise has had the clarity and willingness to speak out on the plight of a city and its people.

And perhaps he said it best.

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